In a time when more than 9 of every 10 adult Americans owns a cell phone, most with photo and video capabilities, it's likely that there are more photos being taken (and disseminated) than ever before. However, for teens and tweens with their own cell phones, this ability to immediately capture and forward an image to anyone in the world can potentially be dangerous, particularly when these images are of the scandalous variety. If your child has been charged with a crime for possessing or forwarding a nude photograph of an underage friend or significant other, you may be scared and wondering what kind of impact a potential criminal conviction could have on his or her future. Read on to learn more about your available legal options if your child has been charged with possession of underage pornography.

How are nude "selfies" criminalized?

Each state's laws on the age of consent vary -- while an 18-year-old may go to jail for having consensual sex with a 14-year-old in one state, in another state this couple may be legally wed without the consent of the 14-year-old's parents. However, child pornography is strictly governed by federal law and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice. Defined as any visual image of sexually explicit content involving someone under the age of 18, child pornography laws can apply to selfies of sexual activity, even if these pictures were created with the consent of both parties and these parties were over the age of consent in their respective state. Generally, self-taken nude images of older teens that don't show sexual activity with another individual aren't prosecuted under federal law.

However, state laws can potentially criminalize the behavior of both the teen who took the nude photograph and the one who received (or further distributed) it. These laws were created with the intent to protect children and teens against potential sexual abuse or exploitation. Unfortunately, in practice they have been used to incarcerate teens who received unsolicited nude images of a friend or significant other, or forwarded a nude image to even only one other person.

What factors can help reduce the potential penalties your child will face if convicted?

If your child has been charged with possession or distribution of child pornography under state law, he or she could be facing potentially hefty legal penalties. However, if he or she was responsible for distributing or saving an image of a nude minor, even under the most extenuating circumstances, the negotiation of a guilty plea may be your child's best option. If your state's law on this issue is clear, even an incredibly sympathetic defense won't legally exonerate your child if he or she was admittedly responsible for an action that is technically criminalized in your state.

In exchange for a guilty plea, your child may be able to avoid being prosecuted as an adult. While juvenile records are sealed and won't have a long-lasting effect on your child's employability or ability to attend college as an adult, a conviction for child pornography as an adult could carry sexual offender registration requirements and prevent your child from working or living near a school or park for the rest of his or her life. Pleading guilty can also help your child exercise more control over his or her sentence. By demonstrating true remorse and a commitment to stay out of future trouble, your child may be able to avoid time in a secure facility in exchange for house arrest or a similar setup.

On the other hand, if your child truly wasn't responsible for the actions alleged (for example, if a friend stole his or her phone and used it to forward an image), you may want to fight this battle in court. A criminal defense attorney will be able to explain the current case law in your state to help you determine the best choice for your child's situation.